Artistic visualization of our co-creative journeys at the Feb 2014 Learn/Share Lab in Thailand.

Do you see it?

For some years now, I’ve found it useful to believe that the tipping point (as Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the concept) has already been reached when it comes to the kind of social transformation that’s needed at a global level, in order to put our planet back on track. My growing sense is that in spite of all the troubling news we see around us, there are also many important levels at which we are actually on a firm path toward positive global transformation. We just don’t (know how) to see it yet.

The most valuable gift that orchestrating our recent Learn/Share Lab has left me with, is a heartfelt imperative to encourage all those using and reading about co-creation and co-creativity to be mindful of the potential transformation upon us, and step up to help nurture the the best possible global impact.

“Cocreation” is indeed the latest in better-world memes that is spreading like a virus, in a way that’s transecting all of our global systems. You hear about it from the business sector, universities are teaching it, organizations like Ashoka are investing in it, and all of them are using the word co-creation to talk about seemingly different things. At #cocreate14 we learned and shared about cases where cocreative approaches and processes were generating social impact – thru corporate employment policy, social product development, health administration, waste management, human rights policy, local resilience initiatives, online & offline community development, and more.

The wikipedia entry on co-creation is simply outdated, in my view. I wonder if C.K. Prahalad and Venkat Ramaswamy (credited with popularizing the term in 2000), realized then that the term would also align with the direction in which the social space has long been moving. I saw the other day that a leadership coach has trademarked “co-creative leadership,” which feels a little ironic to me, but there it is. In the end, the path through which we’ve all arrived to this confused space of knowing that lots of people are talking about co-creation is not really important. What is important – especially for those claiming the term – is that we embrace this organic emergence as a moment to recognize the strong commonality in what all of us are talking about at the core, when we speak of co-creation.

“increased We-ness”

I think I see that everyone who is using the co-creation meme is talking – in one way or another – about including more voices of the people who are connected through stuff that affects them, in developing stuff and getting stuff done. Wonderful! An across the board increase in the we-ness of how governments, organizations and businesses operate couldn’t be a bad thing, could it?

It could be, actually, if we don’t really see it. By seeing it, I don’t mean noticing and championing co-creativity everywhere. but developing tools for continents of people to see the we-ness in co-creative stuff with a discerning eye. WE-washing or cocreation-washing in some corporate and government media strategies could prove a nightmare of Orwellian proportions if co-creation becomes a hot meme that is exaggerated in ways which can’t be easily verified, even ranked. Could it ever be possible to imagine verifying such a thing? Especially since, as John Baxter reminds us, Our world is already inherently cocreated— we just don’t do it very well. (Discussion).

Doing co-creation well is not really about how many voices are included, or whether a group is closed or open, or working toward determined or emergent goals, as we plotted them for cross-silo analysis at the Lab. As Jean Russell writes, through the social impact lens it can often be about phasing co-creative processes into building something that is more centrally owned and managed. In fact, at #cocreate14 a common value we unearthed is that the process in co-creative approaches can be just as socially impactful for the participants as the actual outcomes achieved by any group of voices working together, large or small. I would posit that even in co-creative corporate branding and product development strategies, the process used will impact the participants personally in describable ways.

How co-creative is your co-creation?

I find myself wondering if a useful co-creativity index or scoring system could be developed, that’s built around the self reported impact of the process on the people involved in any process/initiative that claims to be co-creative. If I were to allow myself to imagine, I’d see:

  • A trip-advisor-like online interface for folks co-creating in the connected world. Co-creation listings with user scores (Thank you Nic Meredith for that inspired marketplace discussion at the Lab)
  • A simple survey that generates a co-creativity score or a composite index, based on how participants feel about a range of co-creative process elements.
  • Online scouts who find stuff that claims to be co-creative and add it to the platform for rating
  • Armies of volunteer travelers recruited to survey under-connected participants in local/international development initiatives.

With that picture come so many interesting questions:

  • Could a simplified common survey be designed for participants/stakeholders co-creating in business, international development, education and community building, that enables them to meaningfully rate the impact of a co-creative process on them?
  • What would that inquiry look like, and what other things would folks need to see, in order to discern a truth in the use of the co-creation/ cocreation/ cocreative/ memes?
  • A co-creation index? A WE index? A Ci2i index? What name would help “memify” the highest genuine level of meaningful increased WE-ness into the history of “co-creation” that’s emerging at this point?

If not an index or scoring system, surely some other kind of tool could be developed to help us recognize and evaluate the co-creation increasingly around us more clearly – not just for what it is but for what it isn’t.

When WE-ness goes viral

An amazing amount of good – empowerment, confidence, sense of connection – could happen in people’s lives all over the world if the increased we-ness inherent in the co-creation meme actually became something “real” that people could learn to look for and demand in making our consumer decisions, investment decisions, career decisions….

But really, any significant increase in the number of people on the planet who are learning to see and want more genuine WE in our lives, inevitably results in deep ripples of transformation at multiple levels – potentially impacting not only the design and operation of products and projects, but socially impacting the individual people that comprise their eco-systems. It’s a gentle but powerful shift that appears to be taking root within, among and outside of our existing systems.  My hunch is that increased levels of WE-ness are already re-working and remaking the systems that guide and nurture our lives on this planet all around us right now, both within and well beyond those who will be meming about co-creation in times to come.

In that lies Gladwell’s tipping point, toward transformation everywhere.

This is a call, however, to all of us who talk about co-creation in our work these days, to think carefully about what we expect of ourselves and each other in walking our co-creative talk. We should all be thinking about how to proactively protect the integrity of “increased we-ness” that’s implied in the co-creation memes, and start imagining tools for resisting the potential perils in the worldwide wave of co-creation that’s upon us.

Share your lens?

I am so curious to have more views on this perspective. Your comments are very welcome in the space below. If there’s interest from among co-creative practitioners in working on an index or some other kind of lens developing tool for discerning truth in co-creation, maybe we can start some deeper thinking and planning in the Ci2i Global group at Edgeryders.


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